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SEAT History/Background

Special Education Advocate Training (SEAT) TM

A Project of the USC UCEDD and COPAA

The SEAT Program is the most intensive training of its kind, and the only field tested program created under an independent national review advisory Board.    


The Special Education Advocate Training  (SEAT) Project is born of a collaboration between the USC UCEDD, one of 67 University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Research, Education and Service nationwide,  and the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). The SEAT Project over the years of 2005-2008 develop, field-test,  evaluate, and explore the feasibility of a model special education advocate training program to address current concerns regarding the availability and quality of professional non-attorney special education advocacy services for families of children with disabilities.


Four goals were proposed:

I          To develop and field-test a uniform training program for professional Special Education Advocates

II.        To explore the feasibility of replicating the SEAT  training throughout the U.S.

III.       Evaluate the effectiveness of the SEAT curriculum and training program.

IV:      To disseminate findings of the project


II.        Context

There are many entities throughout the nation which provide training to parents and professionals on special education law, rights, and responsibilities, including but not limited to law schools, the National Disability Rights Network (formerly Protection and Advocacy); Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs), Public Interest Law Centers, and some Family Resource Centers.  Much of existing training focuses on understanding how to advocate for ones own child and/or on the foundations of special education and related law.  However, there is no uniformly agreed upon format to provide training for professional special education advocates.  The SEAT Program was designed to be an advanced level training program, distinct from the training provided by PTIs, law schools, and related advocacy organizations, to prepare non-attorney advocates to assist, advocate for, and when appropriate represent families/students to access FAPE, within the guidelines set by states for non-attorney advocates. 


III.       How the Goals were Accomplished

  • Defining Special Education Advocacy as a “professional practice.”  Because “special education advocacy” is an unregulated practice, one of the first tasks of the project was to define the profession of Special Education Advocates.  The project recognized that there was overlap with three related practice groups:  (1) generic consumer advocates; (2) paralegals and (3) special education attorneys.  The SEAT Project utilized elements of these three related groups to define this profession.

  • Defining Competencies of Special Education Advocates.  Using a review of literature from comparable fields, i.e, paralegals, special education attorneys, and through a rigorous process of soliciting expert opinion and verification by stakeholder groups, 47 competencies were identified as core to special education practice.In 2008, as part of this National Advisory Board led project, COPAA Training Committee and CHLA jointly published the Core Competencies of a Special Education Advocate. Having such common standards helps define the field and recognizes that there are many avenues to obtain the information, knowledge or experience, which is important to assure wide and equitable access to the profession.  SEAT CORE Competencies

  • Defining SEAT Voluntary Special Education Advocate Professional Ethics and Standards of Practice.  Building on ethics defined by other related fields and soliciting expert opinion from the field of special education advocacy, the SEAT Project created a core set of voluntary principles of ethical and professional conduct for Special Education Advocates in 2006. COPAA adopted many of the principles, and published our COPAA Voluntary Code of Ethics for Special Education Advocates in 2008.

  • Developing the content for the SEAT Curriculum.  Over the course of the three years the curriculum writing process was informed by feedback from site instructors (COPAA Members), the project’s national advisory board, feedback from outside expert reviewers, and feedback from SEAT Trainees.

  • Systematic Field-testing.  The SEAT Curriculum was revised and field-tested 3 times in sites across the nation:  Los Angeles, CA; Bay Area, CA; New York City; Philadelphia, PA; Boston, MA..  After each cohort was completed, data on the curriculum from students and instructors were utilized to revise the SEAT curriculum in content and structure. 

  • Core to the design is a supervised practicum placement for minimum of 40 hours, many students complete 60-80 hours, and all most all of the supervisors are experienced COPAA members.

  • COPAA has, during and since the grant period trained hundreds of advocates nationwide.  The third cohort starting in November.  Registrations are being accepted now, and the program has sold out each year.  More information is here


Final Project Report to the National Advisory Board

SEAT Curriculum

The SEAT Curriculum consists of 115 hrs of classroom instruction and at least 40 hrs of practicum/field experience under the supervision of an experienced special education attorney and/or special education advocate.

There are many stakeholder groups involved in educating and supporting families navigating the special education system. Consequently, the topic of creating a uniform training curriculum for special education advocates was of interest to many groups. In order to assure a thorough examination of the goals and end product of this project, the SEAT Project recruited representatives from a diverse group of stakeholders to participate in the project's National Advisory Board and Project Developers.

There are many stakeholder groups involved in providing information to and advocating for the special education rights of students with disabilities. In order to integrate the expertise and concerns of these various groups into our final product, SEAT convened a national advisory board to inform our work. They were selected to be representative of stakeholders most likely to be impacted by or most likely to use the curriculum.

Original Contributors:

Christine Little, California

Barbara J. Ebenstein, Esq., New York

Brice Palmer, Vermont

Judith Gran, Esq., Pennsylvania

Other Contributors:

Linda Boyd, Esq., California

Janeen Steel, Esq., California

Ines Kuperschmit, Esq., California

Denise Marshall, Maryland

Barbara Wheeler, California

Fran Goldfarb, California

Mark Woodsmall, Esq., California

SEAT National Advisory Board

Catherine Blakemore, Esq., Executive Director
Disability Rights California   Sacramento, CA

Kayla Bower, Esq., Executive Director
Oklahoma Disability Law Center and Oklahoma PEApods, Oklahoma City, OK

Robert Farran, Ph.D., Director
Southwest Special Education Local Plan. Area  Redondo Beach, CA

Nancy Huerta, Esq., Attorney at Law
Equal Chance Ed. Consulting, LLC  Shawnee, Kansas

Kim Jones, Esq., Executive Director
Advocates for Justice and Education, Inc. Washington, DC 20020

Denise Poston, Ph.D., Research Associate
Beach Center on Disability, U. of Kansas Lawrence, Kansas

Paula Goldberg. Executive Director
PACER Center, Inc.  Minneapolis, Minnesota

Rich Robison, Executive Director
Fed. for Children with Special Needs  Boston, MA

Janet Rumple. Fellow
Family and Children Mediation Clinic, Indiana   University School of Law, Bloomington, IN

Jamie Ruppman
Special Education Advocate  Vienna, Virginia

In addition, special thanks to the following individuals who provided the SEAT Project with resources and support since the inception of the project: Kayla Bowers, Esq., Oklahoma Disability Law Center and the Oklahoma PEApods (Partners in Education Advocacy) program who gifted SEAT with numerous books and resources to launch our project; Pete and Pam Wright, Adjunct Professors of Law at the William and Mary Law School, and co-authors of several books on Special Education Law who supported the early efforts of SEAT; Pam Hovey who provided content for this Reader and Dale Mentink,formerly with Disability Rights CA and currently with the CA Office of Administrative Law who at the 12th hour provided Instructor Keys to a number of the activities for the SEAT Instructor’s Handbook.

A special thank you to Mark Mlawer and Stephen Rosenbaum for conducting an independent review and providing feedback on the first draft of the curriculum.

Finally, special thanks to Barbara Wheeler, Project Director and our Project Officer, Anne Smith, Ed.D., Office of Special Education Programs, USDOE, whose deep commitment to students with disabilities and their families and her belief in the importance of this project was critical to this work.



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